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US / Canada Border: Preclearance

Region: Ontario Answer # 1034

What is Preclearance?

As per Public Safety Canada, “preclearance” refers to:

“an arrangement between two countries that allows customs and immigration officials from the country of destination to be located in the country of origin in order to clear or deny the admission of travellers or goods to the destination country.”

What is the Preclearance Act?

The Preclearance Act sets out the rights and obligations of Border Officers and Canadian citizens travelling to the United States regarding US entry procedures at preclearance zones at Canadian airports.

United States Customs and Border Protection (USCBP) Officers at Canada-USA land borders working at preclearance areas have broad authority to question, search, detain and arrest travellers.

Why is Preclearance performed?

According to the Government of Canada,

“Passengers and goods which are “pre-cleared” experience faster and more reliable service moving through border points and these operations provide a higher level of security by identifying potential threats at the earliest point in the process. By facilitating the fast and secure movement of people and goods across the border, preclearance supports trade and economic prosperity.”

Preclearance locations in Canada

Currently, the United States is conducting preclearance operations at the following airports in Canada:

  • Calgary International Airport
  • Edmonton International Airport
  • Stanfield International Airport (Halifax)
  • Trudeau International Airport (Montréal)
  • Macdonald-Cartier International Airport (Ottawa)
  • Pearson International Airport (Toronto)
  • Vancouver International Airport
  • Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson International Airport

Preclearance is also operated at the Alaska Marine Highway System Ferry Terminal in Prince Rupert, British Columbia.

What are the rights and obligations of U.S. Preclearance Officers?

There are a number of rights and obligations a U.S. Preclearance Officer has under the Preclearance Act. For example, a U.S. Preclearance Officer:

  • must act in accordance with Canadian law, including the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Canadian Bill of Rights, and the Canadian Human Rights Act;
  • may possess, transfer, import and export a firearm, prohibited weapon (which includes a taser but also an automatic weapon), or restricted weapon (for example, a handgun) for the purposes of their duties or employment;
  • is justified in doing what they are required or authorized to do, and in using as much force as is necessary for that purpose, if they act on reasonable grounds. They are not justified in using force that is intended or likely to cause death or grievous bodily harm unless they have reasonable grounds to believe that it is necessary for self-preservation or the preservation (from death of grievous bodily harm) of anyone under their protection; and
  • has the broad general power to question a traveller bound for the United States. There is no specific requirement that questions asked by the US Preclearance Officer be reasonable or even relevant to their admissibility.

What if a traveller refuses to answer an Officer’s questions?

Travellers must truthfully answer any question that a U.S. Preclearance Officer asks, unless they choose to withdraw their application for admission. Travellers could be asked about their religion or other personal topics, such as whether they have ever smoked marijuana.

Under the Act, failure to answer any question may result in the traveller being charged with resisting or willfully obstructing a U.S. Preclearance Officer. If found guilty, the punishment is imprisonment of up-to two years.

For more information, visit Public Safety Canada, or view the Preclearance Act.


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